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Amazon Echo Review: Star Trek Computer in Your Home

Updated on February 23, 2017
Chriswillman90 profile image

Krzysztof is a lifelong future tech junkie investigating the latest stories from companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Amazon.

Amazon Echo with "Alexa" voice assistant
Amazon Echo with "Alexa" voice assistant | Source

Amazon Echo: Hello Alexa

The Amazon Echo is breakthrough voice control device that promises to make your life much, much easier.

  • It's a Bluetooth cylindrical speaker with a voice assistant named "Alexa".

As soon as you plug the device in (with included external adapter), it starts up in less than a minute and welcomes you with a friendly "Hello" greeting.

  • The Echo is activated with the default wake word Alexa, which can be changed to Amazon or Echo within the Alexa app.

The wake word has to be said before any command is given.

The main setup lies within the Alexa app on your iOS or Android device. From there you can set your location, link your Prime Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and Spotify Premium accounts, and set up other nifty features.

I've had the product since early September 2015, and I'll happily explain the best features and the disadvantages of the Echo.

Hopefully by the end of this review you'll have a good idea whether the Echo is useful enough to purchase or skip on your next Amazon shopping trip.

Amazon Echo: Top 10 Features

Top 10 Uses for Echo

I'll break down the best things about the Echo below and explain them afterwards.

Here are the 10 pros and greatest attractions of Amazon's featured software.

  1. Durable 360° Bluetooth speaker

  2. Multiple timer and alarm activation

  3. Far-field voice recognition powered by seven internal microphones

  4. Ability to hear across the room (up to 10 ft)

  5. Integration with other smart home devices

  6. Provides news, weather, and traffic (limited) updates

  7. Gives you sports scores, updates, and schedules

  8. To-do and shopping lists, track packages, and re-order past purchased Amazon items

  9. Plays music from your Pandora, Prime Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Spotify Premium accounts

  10. Listen to audio books from Audible and Alexa reads your Kindle books

Bonus: Fun Easter Eggs

Explore Echo's Best Features

The Best Attributes

As a 360° speaker it's sturdy and can fill a small room with great sound. I usually don't go beyond volume 7 (goes from 1-11) because the audio begins to get scratchy and diluted.

It can replace your alarm and kitchen timers as well as enhance multitasking capabilities. You can even ask Alexa how much time is left on the timer or cancel timers and alarms if necessary.

The voice recognition software is very good, and you don't have to speak slowly for Alexa to understand you. It has an audio range of 10-15 feet though it serves best as the focal point of your home (kitchen, living room).

You can integrate her with compatible smart home devices including Nest, WeMo, Wink, SmartThings, Insteon, and Philips Hue products for voice activated lighting, temperature control, and more.

You can turn on a specific light or multiple lights through group setup on the Alexa app.

The Echo can answer questions, tell you the weather, provide flash briefings (pre-recorded news updates), give traffic information, customized sports scores/updates, and add items on your to-do and shopping lists.

None of those features are mind-blowing, but it's nice to get quick updates without surfing channels or checking your phone.

Finally, you can play your favorite playlists and radio stations on linked music accounts, have it read your audio books from Audible or Kindle, and even re-order items previously purchased on Amazon from your Prime account.

And best of all, the Amazon Echo is family friendly!

Amazon Echo: Top 5 Disadvantages

Source

The Top 5 Complaints

This time I'll be breaking down the ugly parts of the Echo and explain them after.

Here are the unfortunate aspects of the Amazon Echo:

  1. Lacks intelligence compared to other digital assistants (Siri, Cortana, Google Now)

  2. Occasionally misreads your voice or questions asked

  3. Not portable (beyond your home), doesn't have rechargeable battery

  4. Durable but not high quality speaker

  5. Technology still rather limited

Echo's Greatest Challenges

The Biggest Problems

The biggest problem is that the Echo's voice assistant Alexa is not as intelligent as other personal digital assistants including Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and Google Now.

She can't answer difficult questions aside from quick Wikipedia entries and general knowledge questions provided through Bing.

You'll be hearing her say "Sorry" or "Hmm I don't know" a lot, and she may even ignore what you say entirely.

The other issue is that the device sometimes misreads what you say, so you'll have to repeat yourself (sometimes multiple times) before she understands.

Her voice recognition is pretty good, but it's not top notch yet.

On the app there's a setting for voice training, which is helpful for those with strong accents or dialects if there are miscommunication issues.

The Echo requires an adapter to work since it doesn't have a rechargeable battery or wireless charging. This greatly limits its portability.

As a speaker, she's pretty good and durable but doesn't compare to higher quality Bluetooth speaker such as the Sonos speakers. She's better suited for smaller homes or apartments when it comes to sound quality.

The technology remains limited although it's improving due to weekly software upgrades through the Cloud in Amazon's ecosystem.

There's a lot more that needs to evolve regarding what's possible, but be mindful that the device was released to the public in June 2015 so it's fairly new.

Smart Home Technology

How Useful Is It?

Now that I've broken down the pros and cons of the device, I'd like to address the elephant in the room.

  • How useful is the Amazon Echo and is it worth buying?

Personally I enjoy purchasing gadgets because I love technology and find them fascinating, so I do think she's worth buying.

However, I would rate its usefulness a 6 on a scale from 1-10 without the additional smart home components and an 8 with them included.

  • I highly recommend integrating the Echo with other smart devices because that's where the product's assets lie.

I've found that using her with my Hue lights and WeMo switches have been the most productive because of convenience..

She's definitely a cool looking product and does provide tidbits of useful information, but she's not advanced enough where you can't live without it.

This gadget has definitely started a trend though, and I guarantee her usefulness will improve gradually.

I would rate its usefulness a 6 on a scale from 1-10 without the additional smart home components and an 8 with them included.

Final Review of Amazon Echo ("Alexa")

Source

Amazon Echo Rating

4 stars for Amazon Echo

Final Review

After weighing the pros and cons, I give the Amazon Echo 4 out of 5 stars.

Given the product is in its early stages (initial product launched November 2014), I'm already impressed with what Alexa can do. I didn't even mention things like Easter Eggs and the IFFT recipes it's capable of.

The Easter Eggs are fun phrases you can say (jokes, pop culture references) and IFFT recipes are things you can create on the IF app for Alexa.

For example, you can make her locate your phone or have her email/print your shopping list.

All those fun tools, the list of pros, and future updates make the Echo a fantastic product from Amazon.

Despite my cons, I'd definitely recommend this device if you're a tech lover/intrigued and don't mind the steep price because ultimately I think it's a blast.

Yes she may be a bit gimmicky but I'm a happily satisfied customer, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for the Amazon Echo.

Your Turn!

Would you buy Amazon Echo in the future?

See results

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    • brakel2 profile image

      Audrey Selig 19 months ago from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

      The Amazon Echo sounds disappointing. I have Amazon Prime, and I love it, but I am tired of gadgets like Siri that don't do what they are supposed to do and misinterpret what you say. You have reviewed this device well. I would like to know what the reviewers on Amazon said, but then you have to rewrite what they said. Thanks for sharing this information. Blessings, Audrey

    • Chriswillman90 profile image
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      Krzysztof Willman 19 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      I've read a ton of Amazon reviews on this product and the majority are favorable. The biggest issues that I've read are sort of what you've stated regarding gadgets like this. It was either that or they received a faulty device with wi-fi problems. I think people expect too much out of these devices sometimes like it is the year 2100. Our technology still has a long way to go to be 100 powerful and accurate, but it's a good product for what it is and recently it came out. Thank you for your feedback.

    • profile image

      Terry Adams 15 months ago

      Last weekend we gave an Echo to a blind friend of ours. It was a challenge because his iphone is quite difficult to enter keystrokes, so I called the customer assistance line. Rebecca was very patient, worked through the difficulty and we got him talking to Alexa that evening. Today I received a glowing email praising the device and my dogged determination to get it operational. The speakers are great, no feedback, quality sound. It would be helpful if items could be added to the shopping list without having to go through the introduction for every item. Also, since she is connected by wifi, our cable/telephone/tv is all connected to the cable, Alexa should be able to place a telephone call, but I can't figure out how to do that. We have one since May, 2015, and would encourage readers to buy one. Improvements are being added constantly so what you get now is being upgraded continually. No subscription fees, no add ons except the remote control which you don't really need.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image
      Author

      Krzysztof Willman 15 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      Several improvements have already been made since I got mine in September and there's always something added on every week with an abundance of skills apps that are great if you don't have Wemo, Smartthings, Insteon, or Philips Hue. I strongly want people to purchase one and try it out for themselves because at the very least it is a nice Bluetooth speaker. I also heard great things about car integration with the Alexa voice assistant, which would only give the Echo and Alexa more depth and power. The benefits for the handicapped and disabled are huge as you've alluded to so I'm glad things worked out.

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 14 months ago from Long Island, NY

      I've been thinking about buying the Echo, but thanks to your pros and cons I decided to hold off for now. Since Echo is still a work in progress, with the constant software updates via the Cloud, I realize that there is more room for improvement.

      You also made it clear that it is best used when integrated with other things around the house, such as light dimmers.

      Besides everything you talked about, there is one other concern I had. Since it is always listening for you to wake it up, I wonder how much security one has. It's possible that everything being said in one's home can be overheard by technicians who have access via the Cloud. That's scary!

    • Chriswillman90 profile image
      Author

      Krzysztof Willman 14 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      I completely understand why some like yourself would hold off on buying one. It's at least a year or two away from becoming mainstream and is still a novelty. They've added a lot of new features that I have to update in a couple hubs that make it more enticing but I see your concerns. The privacy issue is a bit scary but I don't think it's a huge detriment to personal safety. I'm more trusting however so maybe I don't fear things like I probably should. Thank you so much for your read and I response. Much appreciated

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